Alvin Moscow on 50th Anniversary of

Investigation and clean-up at the Rikers Island air crash site February 1957.

January 21, 2007

Dear Mr. McCarthy:

I wish I could be with you and the New York Correction History Society to remember and commemorate the crash of Northeast Airlines Flight 823 on Rikers Island fifty years ago. Distance and age prevent me from attending. But in spirit, please think of me being there.

Above is an image of the 1963 Dell paperback edition of Alvin Moscow's Tiger on a Leash. Perhaps inspired partly by the fact that the Northeast airliner had been converted into a passenger carrier from a Flying Tigers cargo craft, the title is play on the turn-of-phrase conveying the danger inherent in coupling raw power with insufficient control..
Let me give you some excerpts from my book on the crash, TIGER ON A LEASH, as you requested and some comments.

I chose to write about that crash because there were so many contributing reasons for it . . . reasons that apply to almost all airliners, even today, and because fortunately there were so many survivors whom I could interview to tell how it felt to be in a airliner crash.

The plane took off from La Guardia Field and was airborne for less than one minute. If Rikers Island had not been in the flight path, many many more people would have died that night.

Setting the scene, TIGER ON A LEASH begins with these words:

The airline industry, a toddling infant before World War II, was booming with the vitality of adolescence in 1957. The jet age was around the corner.

Air travel already had become a way of life in the United States. Each day more than 134,000 persons went from one place to another by commerical plane, so that by the end of the year, the statisticians would count up more than 49 million passengers flown amost one billion miles by fifty-five airlines. . . .

The book goes on to describe the scene when the plane crashed in a wooded area near the Administration Building and burst into flames:

Throughout the small island community, men and women reacted to the plane crash with alacrity.

From the prison hospital . . .Nurse Cecilia Moran hurried to the scene. The prison's medical supervisor, Dr. Meyer /Farbman, left his house near the island dock and raced for the hospital's medical supplies. Two nurses joined him.

Above is an image of the 1961 G. P. Putnam hardcover jacket for Alvin Moscow's Tiger on a Leash. Former NYC journalist (New York Times, Associated Press), Moscow has authored 16 non-fiction books, seven of them national bestsellers. His book on the Andrea Doria, Collision Course, has been updated and re-released. He helped Richard Nixon write "Six Crises." .
Assistant Deputy Warden Emil Joehnk, in charge of maintenance and transportation, telephoned the garage and told an inmate, who risked censure for anwsering the telephone, to get ready the island's one fire engine pumper. The pumper had been delivered to the island four days before . . .

The rescue mission carried out by many prison inmates and prison staff was, as described in my book, miraculously efficient and ended at abut 11:30 pm.

By a half hour before midnight, all survivors had been taken from Rikers Island to hospitals in the Bronx and Manhattan. . . .

A small band of firemen were assigned to remove the dead from the smoldering wreckage of Flight 823.

They laid the bodies in three rows in the snow not far from the wreckage and covered each with tarpaulin or blanket . . . Norman Chadwick . . . Lilian Nixon , , . Hyman Schwartz . . . Eileen Domash . . . The final count was twenty

The prison inmates, when their work was done, filed back to their cells and were locked up for the night. Prison officials took their sixth and final count of the cell blocks shortly before 1 a.m. All were accounted for; not one prisoner had tried to escape. . .

I hope these brief excerpts from TIGER ON A LEASH bring back to memory what happened on that fateful night of February First, 1957 -- Fifty years ago !!!

With best wishes.
Alvin Moscow

Click image for Part I of this presentation.
Click image for Part II of this presentation.

To List of DOC staffers honored for air crash response.
To: List of names of those aboard Northeast Airlines DC-6A Feb. 1, 1957
To The Andersons of Canada remember.
To Remembering Mario DeRosa.
To Remembering Esther Chopelas.
To CAB report on its investigation of the crash.
To: Other views, other voices: Rikers air crash
To: 1989 airplane crash into Rikers Island channel waters
To: NYCHS home page.
To NYC DOC history menu page.